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November 16, 2010
The day in Wrigley Field subsidy scrounging
The last 24 hours has been a bit of a whirlwind for Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts' plan to pay for $200 million in Wrigley Field renovations by having the state and city kick back any future increased amusement taxes to the team. (It's really a ticket tax, but Chicago insists on calling it an amusement tax, a term that, my Baseball Prospectus colleague Marc Normandin notes, always makes him "picture someone coming up next to you to collect when you're enjoying yourself too much.") To recap:
- Both Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Pat Quinn came out against the Ricketts plan, Daley because he doesn't want to saddle future mayors with lost tax revenues (ironically, given his own past funding proclivities), Quinn because Ricketts told legislative leaders about it before his announcement, but not him. "Apparently, they don't think I'm as important as some others," said Quinn. "Well, I'll show them." (Okay, I made the "I'll show them" part up.)
- The Windy City Watch blog revealed that Ricketts' dad Joe is the backer of a group called Taxpayers Against Earmarks, and says in a video on the group's website that "I think it's a crime for our elected officials to borrow money today, to spend money today and push the repayment of that loan out into the future on people who are not even born yet." (A spokesperson for the group later told the Huffington Post that it only cares about federal spending, not state spending.)
- Ricketts held a news conference at Wrigley this morning, trotting out local business and construction union leaders to support the plan. Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper declared: "I say to those of you who are concerned about this, 'Get behind it. We need projects like this. We need visionaries like the Ricketts [family] who are willing to put their money on the line.'" (The Chicago Sun-Times transcript didn't indicate whether "their money" came with an air asterisk.)
- Ricketts also revealed some more details of the renovation plan, which includes moving back-office facilities to neighboring properties and using the space for expanded concessions concourses. (Sound familiar?) He also indicated that he doesn't plan to live up to the Tribune Company's promise to build out the so-called "Triangle Building" next to Wrigley with private funds in exchange for having been allowed by the city to expand Wrigley's bleachers — "The family had nothing to do with the prior legislation," said Ricketts PR flack Lissa Druss Christman — which is sure to win lots of friends on the Chicago city council. Not.
- MLB.com ran a story headlined "Wrigley renovation plan earns locals' support," because the mayor and governor don't count as locals.
- Something called Chicago Breaking Business (which makes me think of what happens when your Chicago business fails to pay off the protection racket) has a much more accurate headline: "Confusion reigns over Ricketts' Wrigley request." House Speaker Michael Madigan, it noted, told reporters this afternoon that Ricketts had withdrawn the amusement-tax rebate plan, a statement that a Ricketts spokesperson immediately denied, insisting, "Nothing has changed, and we are hard at work."
The odds on any of this going anywhere legislatively in the next few weeks seem slim, given that Illinois faces a budget deficit of approximately a bazillion dollars. That said, for running-stuff-up-the-flagpole purposes, it seems to have worked fine: State Senate President John Cullerton said he's open to other funding ideas, and Ricketts said the same thing, so expect a discussion to follow not of whether to fund Wrigley renovations, but how. And amidst all the hoopla, everyone seems to have forgotten that Ricketts promised last year that he wouldn't seek public money for Wrigley, so on that count, it's all working according to plan. Bwahahaha!